B S Raghavan

After the Cabinet reshuffle, what?

B S Raghavan | Updated on January 28, 2011

The Prime Minister himself described the Cabinet reshuffle carried out by him as ‘minor', but ‘damp squib' is more like it. Other than adding three extra names — Messrs Ashwani Kumar, Beni Prasad Verma and K.C.Venugopal — to the existing ones, it has turned out to be nothing more than a game of ‘give-some-take-some'. Actually, only one (Mr Venugopal) out of the three is a brand new face; the other two having had previous stints as Central Ministers.

No wonder, the commentariat is at a loss to put its finger on what precisely was the message Dr Singh wanted to signal. Reading between the names and portfolios, there are only four changes which can be regarded as pointers of sorts to any kind of planned moves on the part of the Prime Minister and the Chairperson, of the United Progressive Alliance, Ms Sonia Gandhi, (who must have undoubtedly been in on the whole exercise).

They pertain to the portfolios held prior to the reshuffle by Dr M.S. Gill (Sports and Youth Affairs), Mr Kamal Nath (Surface Transport), Mr Murli Deora (Petroleum) and Mr Vilas Rao Deshmukh (Heavy Industries). Not to put too fine a point on it, they have been shunted to Ministries which are considered ‘unglamorous' and less prestigious, in popular perception (which, let it be said, may not often do justice to their intrinsic importance). This has been interpreted, justifiably or otherwise, as their having been found wanting and, therefore, fallen from favour.

Like the dog that did not bark in the Sherlock Holmes story, there is one thing that did not happen that has set tongues wagging. And that is the omission to fill the gap in the DMK quota caused by the exit of Mr A. Raja. Apparently, it was not for want of trying by the DMK chief, Mr Karunanidhi. The hitch was in arriving at a suitable name, bearing in mind the compelling need for improving the Government's image in the present context, already made murky with all kinds of scams and frauds.

Town Hall meetings

The most important question, in my view, is not who is in or out, but what the country is going to get from the team the Prime Minister has assembled in terms of clean politics, transparency, accountability, effective governance and prompt service delivery, and whether there is convincing evidence of the Government bending its energies in guaranteeing those objectives which, even today, are out of the reach of the people.

The Prime Minister himself, in an unusual statement issued on January 1, admitted to the existence of “infirmities and shortcomings” in the functioning of democracy in India and the prevalence of an “air of despondency and cynicism”. He has given all the citizens a solemn assurance that he and his government would work with renewed resolve for the welfare of the people. He has further pledged himself to redouble his and the Government's efforts to deal effectively and credibly with challenges, among which he included inflation, cleansing governing processes, ensuring national security and making the delivery system work for the aam aadmi.

These are ringing declarations, but Dr Singh must remember that the people have been treated to identical ones so often in the past from the procession of the high and mighty that went before him that they have ceased to impress. Leave aside the aam aadmi, it is seldom that even persons of good standing come across a Minister or a functionary of the government or administration with a human face, helpful temperament and service-oriented outlook.

If Dr Singh really wants to know the mental and physical torments people undergo, he should spend as many days in different States as possible and hold ‘town hall' like meetings — the kind the US President Barack Obama held in Mumbai during his visit — for as long as possible with all sections of the people. Only then will he know what it is like to be an aam aadmi.

Published on January 21, 2011

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